By ERWIN CHLANDA
Mark Coffey’s CV will take some beating in the election for councillor this month.
A town battling to re-ignite its economy could be well served by someone who for four years was running the Commonwealth’s five billion dollar Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF).
And a place endlessly unable to get a handle on youth crime could well do with a copper who was heading up the police force in the region for four years, between 2005 to 2008, when there was more peace.
And no, Mr Coffey (pictured) does not agree with a youth curfew.
He wants the images from the countless CCTV cameras around town to be processed by police officers – or security or others – based in Alice Springs and responded to in real time.
He would encourage cooperation between the traditional owners’ patrol, police and council rangers.
Most importantly, he would breathe life into the Mall, ending the ghost town atmosphere which invites trouble-makers.
Mr Coffey, now a private consultant, says the time with NAIF produced relationships with all tiers of government “to get things done across northern Australia”.
A few years ago he headed up the Alice Springs Transformation Plan, funded by the Commonwealth, aiming to fix the infrastructure in the town camps.
It was $170m program funding 86 new houses and building the visitor park just south of The Gap. It was a partnership of the three tiers of government.
It’s likely Mr Coffey and candidate Jimmy Cocking, who is planning for a master plan, will be swapping notes.
“I’ve got experience working right across governments,” says Mr Coffey.
“Councils can borrow money from NAIF, with the minister’s approval.”
Mr Coffey says NAIF usually doesn’t lend for emergency management type infrastructure, such as flood mitigation, but for economic development, of broad public benefit across Northern Australia: “They are an independent organisation with [their] own board, providing advice to the Commonwealth minister.”
Would he, for example, promote council investment in tourism assets outside the municipality so long as it created a benefit to the town and its people?
“NAIF could certainly funds those sorts of activities but as a council it’s important that we stick to our core business and get that right initially before we look further afield,” he says.
“There is work to be done, especially in the CBD, around economic activity. I think the council could play a stronger role in supporting economic development.”
Mr Coffey says this could include the proposed National Aboriginal Art Gallery.
“Fiscal responsibility, making sure we get value for money” are important but not to the exclusion of “looking to other places for our projects … to the Commonwealth Government, the NT Government and others.
“I’ve got pretty good contacts across the Commonwealth. I’d be knocking on a few doors looking for funding for projects that are good for the town of Alice Springs.
“Economic development is a key in my mind because it can also drive antisocial behaviour down.
“If we think about the Mall, if there are people in there, going about their business, enjoying themselves” crime is likely to be discouraged.
“Malls are not as vibrant as they used to be. Retail has changed.”
NEWS: What is it that we need to do?
COFFEY: What does it mean to the tourists who come to town? At the moment I think some would not have such a great experience when they are going to the Mall. I support the art gallery on Anzac Oval. That’s a key part of that whole strategy.
NEWS: What else should be done?
COFFEY: The temperatures are so extreme here. You can’t sit in the Mall in the middle of summer. Improving that … looking at shade structures, making it tidier, cleaner, getting the art gallery there. [All this] may open up other economic activity. There has been talk of a motel in the CBD if the art gallery went ahead. Anzac Hill could be turned into a tourism precinct [including] the other side of Anzac Hill, near the highway, so it’s front and centre, with lots of parking … for the drive market, as well as parents and babies.
Mr Coffey says when he was the commander of police in Alice Springs he didn’t support a curfew, preferring to “deter the behaviour in the first place.
“We’ve got cameras everywhere. Those cameras are monitored in Darwin.
“And I don’t think they are monitored real time.
“When we see something happening, a group of kids appearing to be up to no good, then there is an opportunity for locals to respond, whether that’s police or security or patrols, or lights being turned on remotely. That’s an area we should look at to prevent crime, smashed windows or whatever it is.
“A curfew doesn’t discriminate between kids who’re on the streets for a legitimate reason and kids who are not.
“What do you do with those kids? We haven’t got enough police at the moment to respond to offences and the other issues. If we tie them up in looking after kids then I can’t see it working.”
In addition, patrolling services should be reviewed, including council rangers.
“The traditional owners patrol has great potential. I haven’t seen the results from that trial, but I do think they are part of the solution – use their cultural authority around town.”
Asked about the five-four split in the 13th Council now ended, Mr Coffey says working with other elected members in a “constructive manner is essential.
“It’s important we do what’s best for the town, not individuals, not for party politics. Working closely with the CEO [is important], giving strategic direction but allowing Robert [Jennings] and the staff to do their job.”
NEWS: The split between operational and non-operational matters is causing a lot of angst at moment. Things are taken out of the hands of elected members and dealt with behind closed doors, some fear.
COFFEY: The CEO runs the council. The elected members should not get involved in operations of the council. We set the strategic direction. It’s like we’re the board of a company. Let the CEO run the organisation. We should stay out of it as much as we can.
PHOTO: Mr Coffey’s favoured spot for the proposed national Aboriginal art gallery, the site of the now demolished former high school, at the base of Anzac Hill.